The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Monday, June 11, 2007

New Ideas for the VISA tour

This blog is now one year old. I'm going to go back to my origins and just think out loud for a while.

A few years ago NASCAR made headlines with its new "Chase for the Championship" format. This year it's the PGA and its FedEx Cup. Most pro sports tours have season-long competitions culminating in qualification for a final championship. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure one of the very first to do this was the IAAF with its Grand Prix Final.

I think the fields at the USATF meet should be pared down enough that the meet can be pulled off in three days. Sixteen athletes per event would do the trick nicely. (For the Olympic Trials, though, 32 athletes per event and a whole week of competition is merited.) How do we pick those 16 athletes?

You may be surprised to know that until 1972, athletes had to win their way into the national meet; the '72 trials were the first to use a time-only qualifying format. As we've learned in NCAA track, times aren't as objective as one might think. Even worse, running for time instead of competition destroys competition in favor of time trialing.

I propose a new method based mostly on competition. It's a bit tricky, though, considering that USATF serves the needs of a wide array of athletes: international stars, national-level pros, collegians, and age-groupers. The competitions that would qualify athletes to the USATF outdoor championships would be the USATF juniors, the various levels of NCAA (and NAIA) championships, and the VISA Championship Series.

In the VISA tour, I'd give athletes points based on place. At the Boston, New York and Fayetteville indoor stops, they would score 5-3-1. At the USATF Indoor Championships, it would go 10-8-6-4-2-1. At the Carson, New York and Eugene outdoor meets it would go 6-4-3-2-1. (Of course, only athletes eligible for the USATF meets would score; all others would merely be skipped.)

However, collegians generally skip the VISA tour. That's OK; they've got their own national championships. Ditto for the under-20 crowd (mostly high schoolers). To pick our nationals fields, you take the athlete at the head of his/her list (VISA tour, NCAA D-I/D-II/D-III/NAIA, USATF Jr) with the best mark. We'd need to prioritize a little, though, as athletes with international A-standards go first, then B-standards next, and finally everyone else. Let me show you how it would work in two different examples.

In the men's 100 meters, right now there are 38 Americans with the IAAF World Championships A-standard. Since we're only going to take 16 to the USATF meet, we're only picking from this crowd. Here's how it works. We take the top athletes from the VISA tour (Shawn Crawford), NCAA (Walter Dix), and NAIA (Mike Rodgers), and take the man with the best mark since Jan 1 2006. It's Walter Dix (9.93).

Now we replace Dix with #2 at the NCAA (Trindon Holliday) and again select the athlete with the best time. It's Shawn Crawford (10.01).

Again, we replace Crawford with #2 on the VISA tour (DaBryan Blanton) and again select the athlete with the best time. It's Trindon Holliday (10.02).

As we continue until we reach 16 athletes, here's who we end up with:
Travis Padgett (3rd NCAA D-I; 10.00)
DaBryan Blanton (2nd VISA tour; 10.14)
Tyson Gay (3rd VISA tour; 9.84)
Michael LeBlanc (4th NCAA D-I, 10.17)
Mike Rodgers (1st NAIA; 10.20)
Michael Ray Garvin (6th NCAA D-I; 10.21)
Mark Jelks (4th VISA tour; 10.21)
Greg Bolden (7th NCAA D-I; 10.21)
Marcus Brunson (5th VISA tour; 9.99)
Leroy Dixon (6th VISA tour; 10.14)
Trell Kimmons (7th VISA tour; 10.17)
Leonard Scott (8th VISA tour; 9.91)
Bernard Williams (9th VISA tour, 10.17)

This example is in an event where the US has an embarrassment of riches. Another example is an event where we aren't so deep, the women's 800 meters. Here we have six athletes with the A-standard (Alice Schmidt, Hazel Clark, Treniere Clement, Alysia Johnson, Katie Erdman, and Nicole Teter) and three with the B-standard (Frances Santin, Tiffany McWilliams, and Heather Dorniden). We'll use our system to fill out the field to sixteen athletes. Assuming McWilliams doesn't enter the 800, that means eight more athletes.

While national collegiate champs from lower divisions and the USATF Junior champ could concievably qualify under our system, in this example none are fast enough to make it. So we're really only looking at the VISA tour and the NCAA. The first four from the NCAA have already made it, so now we're comparing 5th at the NCAA (Geena Gall) and the VISA tour leader (Christin Wurth-Thomas). Wurth-Thomas goes in first.

Now we replace her with #2 in the VISA tour, Nikeya Green. Green and Gall have the same best time (2:02.24), so they're both in. Continuing on this way, we end up with Morgan Ulceny, Temeka Kincy, Rebekah Noble, Mishael Berger, and Lauren Astin.

If a runner feels left out, there's only one response: get yourself into VISA tour events!


Jimmie R. Markham said...

Good ideas. You've got to admit, though, that organized "time trials" do have their place — especially in the middle-distance races — and are what produce most world records. There's nothing quite like watching a race that has a couple of world-class runners being paced by a couple of knowledgable rabbits. Those type of "time trial" conditions are what allow us to be treated to a world record like the exquisitely paced Mile world record by Hicham El Guerrouj. In fact, Roger Bannister's historic first sub 4 would not have been possible under competitive conditions. Only by being paced by Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway was Bannister able to pull off his historic feat.

The Track & Field Superfan said...

In my opinion, organized time trials have destroyed the sport. The GP circuit almost never has a competitive finish in races of 1500m or further. Unless someone is on WR pace, they are so boring as to be unwatchable.

In 1954 there was some debate as to whether or not Bannister's record should have been approved, and in ensuing years Bannister himself began to wish it hadn't happened the way it did. In the early 60s he predicted rabbitting and time-trialing and thought it would ruin the competition that makes the sport interesting. I think he was right.

This is precisely why NASCAR and the PGA have changed their formats--to keep their championships up for grabs right until the very end.

Jimmie R. Markham said...

While I certainly value your opinion, I respectfully disagree that organized time trials have destroyed the sport. They certainly haven't destroyed it for me. I think races with rabbits can be every bit as exciting as races without rabbits. I published a post about this topic over at Finish Line Pundit. By the way, I have added your blog to my list of 5-Star websites. Thanks for the inspiration and keep up the great blogging!